Death of Spider-Man… Ultimate, that is

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before but, aside from Uncle Ben and Thomas and Martha Wayne, no one really dies in comics.  Unless of course, you die in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe.  If you’ve read the amazing stories published under the Ultimate Banner in the last 12 years, you’ll know that anybody can die, any time.  I never want to reveal plot points in comics, so just check out the Ultimatum story line if you don’t believe me.  Anyway, in the Ultimate U, Peter Parker has always been a teenager, never married MJ, and his arc has been an amazing one.  These final issues of Peter Parker’s life are best experienced if you’ve read at least the previous three books that comprise the post-Ultimatum Spidey, or better still, Brian Michael Bendis’ complete 160 issue run on Ultimate Spider-Man.  Seriously… take the time and enjoy the ride.  There is also a great volume called Death of Spider-Man: Fallout, which looks at how Peter’s death affects the other super heroes and mutants of the Marvel U and, most particularly, Aunt May and Mary Jane. 

I know it’s no big challenge to sing the praises of a Spider-Man storyline, but this Ultimate incarnation was a much more innocent and often painfully self-sacrificing version of the iconic character.  If you’ve never read Ultimate Spider-Man, seriously, start at the top.  Start at the top, knowing – sadly – there will truly be an end.

Charles Dickens… meet Batman!

One of the most beautiful graphic novels of the year has got to be Batman: Noel by Lee Bermejo.  What’s most intriguing about this title is that it loosely follows Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for its plotline.  In the same kind of time-hopping journey that Scrooge undertakes on Christmas Eve, Batman must deal with issues surrounding villains and compatriots past and present in his own journey to deal with his own ever-present foe – more pressing on Batman than death itself – the Joker.  What makes this book so truly special, as I mentioned at the outset, is Bermejo’s art.  For those of you who read The Joker (2008) by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Bermejo, you’ll know just how dynamic and memorable his work can be.  I’ve read this book twice, now, but I’ve looked at it five or six times.  Every page is filled with exquisite detail, shadowy impressions, and the lingering effects make you with more comics were of this quality.  Check it out.

Sin City

After years and years of internal debate (within myself, that is), I have finally added all seven volumes of Frank Miller’s Sin City to our collection.  For those of you who have never experienced these books – and these are most certainly books you experience rather than simply read – they are the absolute essence of hard-core noir storytelling.  This is perhaps the quintessential distillation of Miller’s high contrast black and white art combined with his deeply engrossing and often shocking plotlines and characters.  The hesitation I’ve felt over the years comes from the level of violence, sex, and nudity in these books (just for the record, I realize I’ve also given you a very attractive reason for reading these books, but that’s just the way it is).  Miller is so iconic that he is probably responsible for a third of the “must-read” comics and graphic novels ever written (with another third belonging to Alan Moore).  His work on Batman – The Dark Knight Returns and the four issues of the Batman comic that became known as Batman: Year One – have done more to shape the current Batman Universe than any other set of stories.  Add that to Sin City, 300, Ronin, and his work on countless other titles, and you have a serious contributer to comic book history.  But as for the delay in adding this series, I loved it myself, but we really don’t have anything quite like it as far as mature content goes.  Then again, there’s nothing quite like it… that’s the point.  So, for those of you have somehow missed Sin City, now’s your chance.  And I’d love to know what you think about it, so please leave a comment on this posting, if you can!

Ultimate X: Origins

I’ve talked about Marvel’s Ultimate Universe before, and while a couple of the latest entries in the UU have not been earth shattering, Jeph Loeb and Arthur Adams’ newest book is a great one.  Ultimate Comics: X Origins is a well crafted look at the place of the mutant population after the decimation of the X-Men in the Ultimatum saga.  This collection contains the five issues of this intro series, and each issue focuses on a different character – some new, some old, and one or two surprises thrown in for good measure.  I’ve had a real love/hate thing going on with Jeph Loeb of late, as I was crazy about his Batman work and Marvel’s “color” books with Tim Sale, but I had some problems with his take on Ultimates 3.  Basically, the UU has been handled best by Bendis and Millar (in my opinion), and Loeb had yet to find his stride.  Happily, for me anyway, X: Origins is a great run, setting up what I hope will be an exciting evolution of the X-Men in Ultimate Comics: X-Men, which just got rolling this fall.  I think being familiar with the progress of the UU will make reading “Origins” a more interesting experience, and if you’re not up to speed… what are you waiting for?!

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer

Yes, I know what you may be thinking.  Vampires have officially taken over the literary landscape.  That or zombies.  Bill Willingham’s Fables features a Pinocchio that was turned into a real boy by the Blue Fairy only to become furious to remain stuck in the body of a child for the next few hundred years.  He’s a pretty tough little guy, but so is Van Jensen’s take on Carlo Collodi’s classic character, who never makes the transition to being a “real boy,” and thus winds up becoming the ideal vampire slayer (i.e. – a wooden stake ever at the ready if he tells a lie at just the right time).  It’s also published by SLG, one of my favorite indie publishers, so it has a bit more edge and humor than a lot of mainstream comics.  The first volume (there are currently two volumes available) also contains one of the best final pages I’ve seen in years.  this is a terrific series, a black and white gem drawn by Dusty Higgins, and a nice little diversion from the everyday!

MetaMaus

I’ve talked about Maus before, and any who has ever expressed an interest in visual storytelling has hopefully already read and appreciated the masterpiece that is Art Spiegelman’s Maus.  The complete Maus – until now – has been the two volumes first published in 1986 and 1991.  I believe I can say, without fear of reprisals, that the complete Maus must now include what is ostensibly the third volume of Spiegelman’s work: MetaMaus: a look inside a modern classic, Maus.

To the uninitiated, a book about a book – written by the same author of the original book – might seem unnecessary.  Yet Maus is one of the most important graphic novels of all-time, and one of the most poignant works on the Holocaust ever to be written.  Spiegelman has spent the years since 1986, and since his special Pulitzer Prize in 1992, answering questions like, “Why mice?”  “Why comics?’ and “Why the Holocaust?”  This book, that contains interviews with the author, tons of images and drawings, and – most fascinating to me – transcripts from Art’s original interviews with his father, Vladek, that began in 1972.  As the story of Maus is the story of his father, this was an amazing thing to read.  But to be honest, every page contains information that is simply fascinating.  Spiegelman talks about how the book was received in various countries around the world – for instance, Germany and Poland – how he designed the characters, the page layouts, everything!  The detail here is almost unheard of in the study of visual storytelling, and the literary and comic world is incredibly fortunate that the author took the time to put this book together.  It is truly a treasure trove of information, and I would recommend everyone make a space in the “must read” list for this title.  And if you somehow haven’t read the orignal Maus.  Do it.  Now.

Arkham Reborn

Upon the disappearance of Bruce Wayne and the great Dark Knight, there was a giant upheaval in the force… no wait, wrong story arc.

During the interval of Bruce Wayne being lost in time and Dick Grayson taking over the mantle of the Bat, there was a miniseries called Battle For the Cowl, which dealt with the Bat-family and Gotham City as they made their way through the interval.  One of the most interesting stories in that period dealt with Arkham Asylum, the infamous stomping ground for Batman’s rogues gallery.  The asylum was recently destroyed, and this series focuses on Jeremiah Arkham’s attempt to rebuild it as less of a prison and more of a rehabilitation center.  Of course, the “patients” are still as unpredictable and insane as ever, but this time the motives of Arkham are brought into question, and create a real balance between the inmates and the physician.  There are some interesting new characters here, the artwork by Jeremy Haun is clean and creepy, and there’s always something nice about a Batman related tale that only features the big guy in a peripheral kind of way.  I like learning more about the world he inhabits, or the world that revolves around him.  Either way, it’s a cool story, and an interesting chapter in the history of Arkham.

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